With Hallowe’en out of the way it’s only natural to start thinking about Christmas for a variety of reasons. It’s the next time we get off from work for one thing. And also, the shops around town have started ramming it down our throats already. But I’m a big fan of Christmas so I don’t mind at all. That said, I do always feel pressure at this time of year to make my money last longer and go further, as the realisation kicks in that my November pay cheque has to get me through Christmas parties, Christmas shopping and actual Christmas (and St. Stephen’s) Day, before getting another red cent. Oh, and of course, rent and bills and everything else that goes along with normal adult life.
With that in mind, Husband and I have been paying close attention to our spending and trying to create (and stick to!) budgets each week. The one area we could definitely improve on is our grocery bill, and within that, the most expensive item we buy is usually meat. We eat meat or fish every day without fail, so we usually buy a week’s supply each time we shop. This can cost anywhere between €20 and €30, depending on the special offers in our local supermarket.
So, this week we decided to cut down on our meat spending. We went to a local butcher, C&C Family Meats and got one of their value packs: 4 large chicken breasts, 1lb of minced beef, 4 beef burgers, 4 peppered steaks and 1lb of diced beef, all for €18. What a bargain! And with careful rationing we could make it last 3 weeks at least. We deposited most of it in my parents’ freezer and took home 2 chicken breasts and half the mince to do us for the week. Our grocery shop that week included lots of tins of beans, lentils, barley and eggs, as well as lots of fruit and vegetables.
Looking at our haul, it was obvious we’d have to be very inventive, making sure Baba would also eat whatever we’d concocted. The first meal was a regular mince with onion gravy and mashed potatoes, but instead of using all the mince, I used half the meat and added a cup of red lentils. The lentils gave the dish a lovely warm hearty sweetness, and it was a big hit with Baba. Result!
So far so good. We had falafel another night, which is one of Husband’s specialities, and a firm favourite of Baba’s. I’ve quite enjoyed the adventure (invent-ure) and haven’t missed meat as much as I thought I would. So, in Frugal Feasts, I’d like to share some of my ideas with you, in the hopes that you’ll also be able to save some cash and get a bit more adventurous. And maybe my forays will inspire you to come up with your own creations, so please let me know if they do!
First up, UnbEATaballs with Pasta and Tomato Sauce. No, it’s not a typo. I decided to call these UnbEATaballs because it seems silly to say Meat-free Meatballs. And it’s way too cumbersome to say Mushroom, Spinach, Bean and Lentil Balls, and Veggieballs just don’t sound warm and yummy and inviting to me. So UnbEATaballs it is! (It also allows for plenty of artistic licence.)
Because I managed to score some good vegetables for 39c each, the total cost of the ingredients used in this meal were €2.36, so that works out at about 59c per portion. There were store cupboard staples used as well which I haven’t included in the total cost, but all things considered, it’s pretty good to get a full family meal for under €3. Sure you’d barely get the bus for €3 these days, never mind a hot dinner, wha’?
At first I got excited because I thought I had cooked a vegan meal but then I remembered there are eggs in pasta. Duh! But I guess if you are vegan you could have rice or potatoes instead.
So here it goes…
UnbEATaballs with Pasta and Tomato Sauce
1 cup of red split lentils, cooked as per instructions on the pack
5-6 large chestnut mushrooms
1 good handful of spinach
Half a tin of butter beans
2 small onions
Half a red pepper and half a yellow pepper
1 carton of passata
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
1 teaspoon honey/maple syrup
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Whole wheat penne pasta (quantity as required)
1. Heat the oven to 200°C
2. Place the spinach, mushrooms, butter beans and one of the onions in the food processor and blitz until very fine.
3. Put the cooked lentils in a bowl and add the mixture from the food processor. Add one teaspoon of garlic granules and one teaspoon of dried oregano. Mix everything well. The mixture will be quite wet – if you like, you can add a tablespoon of flour (wholemeal would be best) or some breadcrumbs, but it’s fine without it.
4. Pour a tablespoon of oil onto a baking tray and place in the oven to heat up. In the meantime, using wet hands, roll the mixture into small balls and place on a plate. The quantities here should make 12-14 unbeataballs.
5. Remove the tray from the oven and place each of the balls into the hot oil rolling around to ensure even coverage. (Be careful!) Place the tray in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown, turning gently halfway.
6. Put the peppers and onion in the food processor and blitz until fine. Fry these on a gentle heat in some oil until soft.
7. Add the tomato puree, passata, honey/syrup, vinegar and half a teaspoon of garlic granules. Put the lid on the pot and allow to come to the boil. Once boiling, take off the lid and turn down the heat so the sauce simmers gently and thickens up. Meanwhile cook the pasta as per the instructions on the pack.
8. Drain the pasta, transfer to the sauce and mix well. Serve with unbeataballs, topped with grated cheese if desired.
Note: if cooking for little eaters, don’t add any salt. You can use more garlic and oregano to load up on flavour. If you’re cooking for adults only however, I would recommend a pinch of salt in the UnbEATaballs.